The Sisters Grimm: A Novel by Menna van Praag (book review).

March 31, 2020 | By | Reply More

If the Moon is in its first quarter and the time is precisely 3:33am and you happen to push on the right sort of gate you might make it into Everwhere. A land of pale colours and eternally drifting leaves, it is a place of dreams and magic. Goldie, Scarlet, Bea and Liyana have vague childhood memories of their time in Everwhere.

Their lives have moved on in predictable mundane ways and the power they once held over the elements has been forgotten. But as they approach their eighteenth birthdays, things are starting to come back and if they want to survive they had best remember quickly.

‘The Sisters Grimm’ is the story of the Devil and how he wants to take over the Earth. To help him, he fathers many daughters who will work to corrupt humanity. But these daughters are also human, so they have free will. So they will have to choose: Good or Evil. Light or Dark. So the Devil recruits soldiers to hunt his daughters down and force them into a choice: kill or be killed.

This novel feels fractured. Split across five different points of view, two time periods and two worlds. It overwhelmed me with information and flickered into another plot element before I was ready. I liked each character and wanted to hear more of their stories. Their everyday stories. The over-arching fight between good and evil and the backdrop of Everwhere was distracting and less interesting with its rigid, binary choices and lack of other options.

There could be more balance in this novel. The over-whelming ideas it gave me are that being good is to be powerless and weak, a sex object and a drudge and that being evil, to chose dark, is to be powerful and to live without fear or pain. Surely there are more options than doormat or selfish bitch. Feminism isn’t only the fight against the masculine. It isn’t only doing what you want regardless of others.

I liked reading this book. I did not like the themes of this book. I am female. I believe in feminism and that there is a skew in our society towards the masculine that needs to be overcome. But, unlike the narrative in this book, I do not believe it takes some extra special something to create a girl child because that girl can birth life because girls cannot birth life alone.

Humans do not procreate by parthenogenesis. We all exist within a complex network of people and places and are not defined only by our gender. As much as ‘The Sisters Grimm’ draws on traditional fairy tales and archetypes therein, it theoretically transplants them into the modern world, but could have done so with much more modern nuance.

I don’t particularly recommend this book, even though I did enjoy parts of it. The characters are powerful, even if they are necessarily beautiful as they are fairy tale heroines. Elemental magic and fairy tales are drawn over the mundane world in interesting ways. The plotline does tend to paced in a slow, slow, fast, way but, while this leads to some scenes being rushed, others are beautifully realised and yet it left me feeling like a bad feminist. That I do not want to celebrate the sacred wonders of the feminine and embrace the power of the sisterhood.

If you enjoyed retellings of classic fairy tales such as Leife Shallcross’ ‘The Beast’s Heart’ or novels with an overt feminist agenda, such as ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman or even a combination of the two with Angela Carter’s feminist retellings in ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ then give ‘The Sisters Grimm’ a look.

LK Richardson

January 2020

(pub: HarperVoyager. 448 page Price: $27.99 (US) , £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-06293-246-4)

check out website: www.harpervoyagerbooks.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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